Friday, February 03, 2006


One of my favorite winter memories of growing up is finding the time on a snowy Saturday afternoon to get settled next to a cracklin’ wood stove, near a window, of course, and gathering up enough reading material—books, magazines, comics, newspapers, whatever—to get me all the way to Sunday evening if need be-- and if I happened to be near enough sympathetic folks who would actually let me be. These were not antisocial moments, just necessary ones, oases of respite, times to let the engines wind down before jetting off on another transcontinental flight plan. Funny how I always cherished those moments when I was a kid, imagining my immediate need for them be all-encompassing, because now, as a grown-up, those moments come few and far between, and I cherish them even more. What’s more, being here in Los Angeles, not only do I rarely get the time to set aside for specifically for reading, there’s absolutely no chance to do it on a snowy day, or even a day cold enough to require lighting a fire. And even if there were, at this point in my life I’d be more likely to settle into that chair, take one look through that window at the weather, close my book and fall asleep.

That said, despite Punxsutawney Phil’s fair-weather warning, something about the approaching weekend compels me to gather up under a blanket with some good reading material. It’s unclear whether I’ll actually get to hunker down or not, but even if I don’t I can at least share what I have in mind. I’ve got Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America just waiting for its spine to be cracked, but there are three other books in line ahead of it: Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, Bruce Campbell’s Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way and the one I’m most looking forward to, Mary Roach’s Spook: Science Approaches the Afterlife, a follow-up to her fascinating, funny, and gratifyingly serious investigation Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Congratulations, you say, and thanks for your library list. What good does that do me, Your Gentle Reader?

Well, how about these links? I’m going to be clicking on them like mad this weekend, and I (virtually) guarantee your satisfaction if you choose to do the same.

Via our friends at GreenCine Daily comes a recommendation from the online magazine Rouge, a piece by Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself) considering the ‘60s films of Andy Warhol called ”The ‘60s Without Compromise: Watching Warhol’s Films.” It begins, tantalizingly:

“The first Andy Warhol movie I saw was Sleep. It was June 1964 at the Cinema Theater on Western Avenue in Los Angeles, the birthplace of Midnight Movies. Sleep didn’t begin at midnight, it began around 6.45pm. It’s a long movie, as I recall, it ended around 12.30am. There were about five hundred people in the theatre when the film began; there were about ten left when the movie ended. I was one of them, although I didn’t watch the whole movie: after four hours or so, I slipped out for a snack at the coffee shop around the corner.

Mike Getz, the theatre manager and programmer, sent a slightly misleading account of the screening to Jonas Mekas, who printed it in his ‘Movie Journal’ column in the
Village Voice. Getz described something close to a riot in the lobby of the theater that began only a few minutes after the start of the film. I had noticed that most of the audience had left during the first half-hour, and I could hear from inside the quiet auditorium that something was going on in the lobby. So I got up and checked it out. The lobby was jammed with people, almost all of them screaming at Mike Getz. They all wanted their money back, and he was resisting. There was a sign on the box office window announcing there would be no refunds, and, according to Getz in his letter to Mekas, he told people:

‘... you knew you were going to see something strange, unusual, daring, that lasted six hours ... I believe that
Sleep was properly advertised. I said in my ads that it was an unusual six-hour movie. You came here knowing that you were going to see something unusual about sleep and I think you are.’

What his account left out is the ad line that brought five hundred people to watch
Sleep: ‘A film so unusual it may never be shown again.’”


I often really enjoy the challenge of reading intelligent criticism about films that I revere or that hold a special place in my heart. Roger Corman’s The Premature Burial isn’t by any means a great film, and often it doesn’t even seem like a very good one, but as a key film in my developing appreciation of the horror genre it’s one that I value, and one that I value going back to once in a while. So it was an exciting exercise to encounter Jason Woloski’s fine piece on the film at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, as well as a simple rare opportunity to read a reasoned, non-snarky critique of the film. The entire Not Coming site, if you haven’t discovered it yet for yourself, is a treasure trove of good writing on an astonishing assortment of worthwhile titles. Once you click, be prepared to stay awhile. Here’s just a taste:

”If Corman did not feel comfortable adopting Poe’s restrained approach to storytelling for his own telling, he would have done well to recognize that when complicating material that’s inherently frightening, it is best to emphasize themes surrounding the topic that the viewer may already be aware of, even unconsciously, as opposed to bulking a tale up through frivolous addition and renovation. In preparing a screenplay for an adaptation of Poe’s tale, the fact that a person who’s been buried alive is forced to face their most basic limitations as a corporeal being should not have been overlooked. Besides the pragmatic fears involved in being ensnared by total darkness with little prospect of being saved, namely a fear of enclosed spaces, of losing control, and of certain death, Corman’s screenwriters could have also examined some of the subtler, but no less relevant, rationales that likely emerge in a person’s mind when they have been buried alive.”


Filmbrain, the excellent film blogger who heads up Like Anna Karina’s Sweater, has posted an essential early look at a movie that’s arriving in March in some larger markets, Asia Argento’s second directorial effort, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Filmbrain got hold of a Dutch DVD and is none too sparing in his assessment of a film based upon material purported to be “true”—a memoir of physical and sexual child abuse-- that has since been exposed as a pack of lies. Filmbrain even pauses to wonder quite plausibly, in consideration of the timeline of the source material’s exposure as falsehood, whether director Argento might not have known, even as she was filming it, that her movie was based not on a fictionalized truth, but indeed pure fiction, and raises some serious questions about her motives:

”There's a self-congratulatory air throughout the whole film, as if Argento is continually reminding us how brave and understanding she is by bringing LeRoy's story to the screen... If Todd Solondz and Gregg Araki went on a three-day crystal meth bender in a locked room with a typewriter, they wouldn't come up with material this vile.”

I’m not generally in favor of passing judgment before the fact, so I will not do so regarding Argento’s film. But I appreciate Filmbrain’s honesty in considering a movie which could very well end up getting positive reviews from a certain segment of the critical establishment and not worrying about whether he falls in line with those points of view. And, as I said in the comments section of his Deceitful post, I feel like Filmbrain took one for the team here. I’m sorry he had to endure it, but I’m very grateful to him that now I will not.


Tangentially related, and more relevant to certain tastes of mine which border on the indefensible, is David Edelstein’s recent piece under his new banner at New York magazine, entitled ”Now Playing At Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn”, which asks, in Edelstein’s familiar, casually brilliant manner, “Why has America gone nuts for blood, guts and sadism?” This isn’t a Medvedian call to arms or anything like that—the writer has had a long love affair with horror films, and he even likes Hostel, sort of—but instead a genuinely interested, interesting, and only slightly alarmed consideration of the difference between Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and, say, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects or, even more to the point, Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, and how audiences and films got to this point.

My friend Peter Gelderblom at 24 Lies a Second has been prodding me for months to catch up with Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. Peet has been rather insistent because of his unbridled enthusiasm for the film, and because his site recently unveiled a brand-new article by 24 Lies contributor Robert C. Cumbow entitled ”Why Is This Film Called Birth?” that he very much wanted me to read. (Mr. Cumbow is also an expert on the films of Sergio Leone who has published a book on the director entitled Once Upon A Time, which will soon be reissued in a brand-new edition.) I promised Peet I wouldn’t read the piece until after I’d seen the movie and that I would put it atop my Netflix queue. This past Wednesday I finally got a chance to sit down with the movie. To say I loved it would be an understatement—it’s the first time in recent memory that I’ve finished watching a film, took a walk around the room, then sat down, pressed “play” and watched it again from beginning to end. I want to write a little bit about the film myself before I tackle Mr. Cumbow’s prodigious piece of work. Peet assures me that it’ll be worth the wait, and I believe him. Thus, I have no qualms directing those of you already familiar with Glazer’s brilliant movie to 24 Lies for what promises to be a fascinating entertaining exegesis of one of this decade’s most unfairly ignored movies. I’m annoyed as hell that I let some pretty good writers talk me out of seeing this one in the theater, but am exceedingly glad to have been directed back to it by Mssrs. Gelderblom and Cumbow, and I am glad to pass that recommendation on to you now. Look for some words from me on Birth next week, if only because I’m dying to read Cumbow's piece myself!


Peet also just returned from the Rotterdam Film Festival, where he saw the new Takashi Miike film. He wrote about it with great enthusiasm on the 24 Lies forum and sent the comments to me in an e-mail recently:

”I just came back from seeing Takashi Miike’s new film The Great Tokai War at the Rotterdam Film Festival. I knew nothing about this movie going in, and, boy, was I in for a treat! It turned out to be something akin to Japan’s answer to the Harry Potter or Narnia series. You know: Miike, for kids!

Apparently, for the first time in his career, Miike was handed a big-ass budget, and the cult-favorite made sure it showed. This film is massive in scale, as well as quirky as hell and full of the perversities and black humor Miike is known for. For a supposed "family film" it is way too extreme for Western taste (mine anyway: I wouldn’t let my oldest son see it until he’s, like, 11 or 12). But it kicks serious ass! In fact,
The Chronicles of Narnia is the undercooked egg The Great Yokai War swallows whole for breakfast!

You won’t hear me declare it a masterpiece. To tell the truth, I don’t know what the hell it is. Something I’ve never seen before, that’s for sure. Miike’s cinema is just too plain weird to satisfy in any conventional manner. This guy re-invented the word “subversive.” Kiddie movie or not,
Yokai War goes from gory body-horror to intimate drama, from absurd parody to epic Grand Guignol fantasy, from kinky science fiction to all-out slapstick. It features legions of Asian folktale goblins, the coolest robots I’ve ever seen, and two very sensual female characters young enough to make me uncomfortable to be aroused by. I can imagine Miike envisioning the film with his team of CGI-animators, discarding all tired Hollywood methods and pushing them in every direction his mind could think of. (For those who have seen Audition and Gozu, that should mean something.)

Think Miyazaki, but live-action, with a slightly fetishistic sensibility. Just a few references that popped in my mind while looking at the film:
Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Wizard of Oz, Nightbreed, Blade Runner, Akira, The Neverending Story, Metropolis, Labyrinth, Godzilla, The Terminator, Kung Fu Hustle, Lord of the Rings-- all filtered through the prism of the mad filmic genius of our lifetime.


For further investigation of The Great Yokai War, Twitch has English-language trailers and an announcement about how you can purchase the HK DVD, as well as reports from the Toronto and, yes, the Rotterdam film festivals.

And as if that weren’t enough Gelderblom, check out the keen new banner he recently designed for the essential Brian De Palma Web site De Palma a la Mod.

(Thanks, Peet!)


The recent Showgirls Blog-A-Thon was such a success that it looks to become a regular feature amongst some of us in the blogosphere. On tap for next week, Monday, February 13, is a festival of pieces considering Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown, which will be my first encounter with the director’s work (I’ve also got Cache and Funny Games lined up for some context). My article will be posted that Monday, along with pieces from at least 10 or 12 others, and the list could be growing as we speak. If you’re a film blogger and want to participate, or just want more details, you can get ‘em from the ones that started all these shenanigans, Girish and Flickhead. Rumor has it that March will be devoted to not one, but any one or more of the films of Abel Ferrara. Now, that sounds like a party…


Speaking of Flickhead, he’s got a terrific reminiscence about San Francisco’s Strand Theater that was an act of pleasurably voyeuristic nostalgia for me—I’ve never been to the Strand, but Flickhead not only made me feel as if I had, he tells a couple of really good stories about some of the films he saw when he used to frequent the palace, around the time (1978) that Philip Kaufman was in the city shooting his remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

And for total immersion in the cinemas, old and new, revival, retro and festival, please do not miss what Brian has to offer at Hell on Frisco Bay. He’s got direct links to a multitude of Bay Area cinemas, and the site is an invaluable way of keeping up to date on the struggles of the city’s cinemas to stay alive in the age of the multiplex, as well as keeping a finger on the pulse of the city’s vibrant festival and special screening circuit. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again-- Hell on Frisco Bay makes me feel unusually connected to the City by the Bay, and it daily points up reasons why, in addition to San Francisco being where my best friend resides, I’d want to live there. (If only it weren’t also where those damn Giants call home…)


Finally, just for fun, if you’re feeling cinematically frisky try your hand at “The Last Picture Game Show,” updated with fresh, new challenges each Monday for those who feel on top of their powers of visual observation and movie recall. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it completely right. But, strangely, I try it every week…


Have a good weekend, everybody, all hunkered down under that blanket, whether at your computer or (in a dream life, anyway) sitting beside a warm stove and a cool window onto a snowbound world, catching up on your reading. Coming soon, Birth, Robert Altman, that long-rumored baseball movies article, the answers to Professor Brainerd’s Christmas Vacation Quiz, Michael Haneke, and a whole lot more. I leave you with this for now:


Sal said...

So....which one is you????

Peter Nellhaus said...

Living in Miami Beach has made me nostalgic for cold weather. I actually enjoyed my week in Toronto even though it was cold, dodging Hurricane Wilma. In reference to Sleep, I read an interview with Warhol where he claimed he never intended this or Empire to be viewed like a regular narrative film, but for the viewer to watch for a few minutes, walk away for a while, and then look at the film again, kind of like a painting.

blaaagh said...

Dennis is too modest, Sal, to tell you which Delta pledge is him, but he's the second from the right, the 17-year-old, too-young-to-be-in-this-movie-let-alone-see-it-without-a-parent-or-adult-guardian-in-Oregon Dennis. I hope that guy on your left behaved himself that day, as he was wont not to do. And where'd you find that picture??? A screen capture?

I was always fascinated reading about SLEEP, and wondered what it'd be like to sit in a theater and try to watch it. Peter N.'s comment about Warhol's intention for it puts it in perspective. Thanks for all the cool links...and I know you'll have more time for reading when the girls get a little older.

blaaagh said...

Oh--and BIRTH--I'm anxious to see it now! As you know, I have it on my queue, and I won't read anything else about it until I've had a look myself.

Edward Copeland said...

The Plot Against America is good, but Roth has done better before. I'm halfway through Assassination Vacation and loving it so far.

beege said...

Ooo! Let me know how you liked "Spook". I really enjoyed it, and it made me go and reread "Stiff"--death and the afterlife sort of being right up my alley. ;)

p.saga said...

Dennis, I've rented CODE UNKNOWN (and I'm eagerly awaiting CACHE's arrival at the Darkside), so bring on the Blog-a-thon, I say! Cheers!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

psaga: Blog-a-thon's a-comin'. I've got Code Unknown ready to watch, but, just like my old college days, even with all the advance notice I can't seem to settle down and do the ork until the last minute. I expect some last minute immersion in Haneke myself this weekend-- Cache and Funny Games will be included for some context, if I have the time.

Beege: I'm glad to see someone else appreciates Mary Roach's books (not that I expected there was no one else, but-- well, you know what I mean!) Anyway, it was good to find out they weren't just going to be snarky riffs on forbidden subject matter, but instead honest inquiries in subject matter that is not so much forbidden as ignored, mostly out of fear.

Blaaagh: I stumbled upon the picture here while doing some innocent picture hunting. And today I found out that one of the kindergarten moms I talk to every day went to Oregon, class of '82, lived in Bean East dorm in 1978-79, and in Carson the following year, on the second floor facing EMU, right below me. Weird, huh? She wrote in a PTA magazine about being at the school where they filmed Animal House and being shocked to see people running around in togas on a Saturday night. Ah, memories...

Jim C said...

The problem with Edelstein's New York piece is that strikes an intellectual-cum-concerned pose then sticks it's tongue out at the reader with the very last phrase, almost as if to say "You know everything I just said? Just kidding." I think the leaning toward "Torture Porn" and all the other horror remakes is a dangerous sign...but then I'm sure horror detractors through the ages have thought the same.